I’m writing this post with some real hesitance, feeling like I’ve just stepped into a cigar-smoke filled backroom with the bunch of thugs who really run this town… and they’re pulling out their tommy guns to take me out as I’m frantically trying to write this.
Yeah, I tend to get a bit melodramatic when I write, but this time I really feel like I’m tossing it on the line… I mean, this is my job I’m talking about here and though I’ve feigned to be so direct before, this issue cuts at the heart of the work that I’m doing. And fuck if I feel like a piece of me is dying as a result of this.
can now be written like this:
<a href="http://flock.com" ping="http://myeviltracker.com?source=factoryjoe.com/blog">Flock</a>
The result? Well, hover over the link and you’ll get a handy little status bar message telling you that Firefox is about to open (in this case) flock.com as it silently pings myeviltracker.com in the background. The benefit to you? Well, supposedly because you’re no longer visiting the redirection sites prior to hitting your final destination, pages will be perceived as loading faster. Whoopee.
So why does this matter so much to me? Well, because I’m working on building a browser based on Firefox. Decisions made upstream obviously effect this work since the Mozilla technologies that power Firefox make up the core of Flock. And the decision to enable browser.send_pings by default trickles down to us. We inherit that decision and all the baggage and rationales that come with it. Including the impact on privacy.
I’m not so naive that I don’t recognize that all of our behavior is being tracked, analyzed and quanitified already, both online and off. (Hey, I saw the Matrix too!) But right now, as Hixie pointed out, it’s being done by advertisers via a series of obfuscated redirection URLs. Ever use a service like eBates? Notice the 5 or 10 servers that you’re bounced across before you land at the final page? This ping attribute is designed specifically to address that "problem"… to make landing on your final destination… smoother, faster.. more calming… wha? huh?
Sorry, I dozed off.
So while all the greedy hands in an online transaction will presumably be daylighted in the status bar (yeah, like they’ll all fit), it’s how this feature is being pushed through that scares the bejeebies out of me the most.
And dammit, I feel like more of my online childhood is being robbed from me.
Think about it. Why is this feature being introduced? Who does it really help? Who does it really stand to benefit the most? Lemme give you a hint: it’s not you and it’s not me (despite what the proponents might say). Let me quote:
This change is being considered in large part because some very popular websites have asked for a solution to this problem.
Gee, can’t imagine which "very popular websites" those would be. Scoble, are you asking for features in competitor browsers again? C’mon man, we talked about that!
Oh wait, not that kind of popular… that kind of popular! As in… "all knowing, all seeing, all controlling"?
Oh oh, I get it; yes, exactly: to make tracking your behavior easier for advertisers.
And here I thought the next name for Firefox would surely be Volksfoxen.
I mean, sure, we’re trying to ask some serious questions about what the next 10 years of browsers look like too and we’re also funded by dudes with stogies in dimly-lit rooms (oh what, I’m not supposed to say that?), but, as far as I’m aware (remember, I’m young, dumb and naive), I haven’t been asking what the advertising industry has on its wishlist when I design features. Nor the RIAA et al. Nor enterprise. And no, that hasn’t happened with Firefox just yet, but I’m just concerned that if we’re not vigilant, it might. (Hey,shuddup, it might!)
I mean, the future of the web that I’m interested in investing in doesn’t treat people as statistics to be quantified. No, instead it’s more about what they have to say, what their contributions to this massive jerky conversation pool might look like, what bit of brilliance they might shine on the web that will change my life forever. It’s happened a couple times already and it didn’t result from monetizing the web better.
This send_pings feature reeks of special interests. So hey yeah, just because we’re downstream doesn’t mean we’ve gotta accept everything that trickles down. Insomuch as I’ve yet to be convinced that this feature doesn’t do anything to humanize the web or improve web standards, or help people communicate better, I’m moving to keep it from landing as default "on" in Flock. Call me a luddite, fine, but bug logged. Consequences, well… be damned.